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55 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Huge subject admirably dealt with
Simon Winchester adds to his growing ouevre and reputation with this enthralling and fascinating book. What could have been a daunting read is made simple and enjoyable by the author's chatty and good humoured style - you get the impression that he would be a fine companion over a pint or two. This is not just a geographic study though. Historical and social aspects of...
Published on 3 Oct. 2010 by Big Jim

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Typesetting clangers
Breezy, informed, thought-provoking, revealing, wide-ranging....all of this applies to this fascinating if chaotic read, opening up a world of unvisited watery straits and shores. Recommended for all frustrated desk-bound explorers just like me.

There is one major criticism though, and nothing to do with Winchester: the sheer sloppiness of the copy-editing and...
Published on 27 Oct. 2012 by Matt


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55 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Huge subject admirably dealt with, 3 Oct. 2010
By 
Big Jim "Big Jim" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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Simon Winchester adds to his growing ouevre and reputation with this enthralling and fascinating book. What could have been a daunting read is made simple and enjoyable by the author's chatty and good humoured style - you get the impression that he would be a fine companion over a pint or two. This is not just a geographic study though. Historical and social aspects of the ocean are admirably dealt with the voyages of discovery, slavery and environmental issues all being covered in some depth. There are many interesting and diverting stories in this book and all in all I can't recommend this book highly enough.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Colourful stories in historical context, 5 Mar. 2011
By 
M. Hillmann "miles" (leicester, england) - See all my reviews
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Simon Winchester is a story teller and a romantic - historical context, detail and colour brings this book to life. He dedicates the book to Able Seaman Angus Campbell McIntyre who was shipwrecked in 1942 on the notorious coast of Namibia in the South Atlantic in a failed attempt to rescue survivors from the SS Dunedin who had been similarly shipwrecked. Stories like this abound.

But he paints on a wider canvas to describe the importance of the Atlantic over the years - an ocean that with today's air travel does not have a high profile. For example parliamentary democracy as it is understood today was very much an Atlantic creation. No such institutions arose in Russia or China or Greece. The Icelandic Rock of Laws set the pattern for governance of the rest of the world, mimicked by the Faroe Islands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Britain.

He approaches the Atlantic from all angles, from its early exploration to pirates and the slave trade; from sea battles through the ages to commerce; from the laying of the transatlantic cable and air routes across the ocean to climate change, ocean currents and receding ice cap.

The question of what motivated men to make the dangerous voyage into the Atlantic before America was "discovered" is answered by fish and whales. He makes a convincing case that the Norsemen created settlements in Newfoundland and Labrador between 975 and 1020 AD. The allure of fish, and specifically cod, drew the Vikings and the Basques as well as John Cabot who named Newfoundland before the imperial claims made by Christopher Colombus in 1492.

The technical tribulations of the USS Niagra and HMS Agamemnon in laying 2,500 miles of transatlantic cable in 1857 is ascribed as the most ambitious construction project ever envisaged in the world. The visionary and financier behind the project was Cyrus Field. After only 15 days the cable succumbed to some unknown submarine malady and no further cable was laid until Brunel's Great Eastern in 1866. By 1900 there were 15 cables but then in 1901 Marconi successfully sent the first radio signal across the Atlantic. The "distance in time" across the Atlantic rapidly diminished.

The immense research and colourful stories makes it another of Winchester's compelling books.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Jump into the Atlantic, 22 Jun. 2012
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I actually found this book quite interesting. There are a lot of things to like about Simon Winchester's "Atlantic." First off, the structure of the book is quite creative. Winchester has adapted the "All the world's a stage" speech from Shakespeare's "As You Like It." Each of Shakespeare's seven stages of a man's life, from infant until second childishness, is used to examine the stages in the life of the ocean. We see the ocean born and eventually die, just as a man does. And we see all its stages in between, as man discovers, explores, interprets, uses and then misuses this grand ocean we call the Atlantic.

Second, Winchester's ocean really is "a vast ocean of a million stories," and most of them are fascinating. While I enjoyed the historical chapters, more than the geological ones, Winchester has put together a book that covers nearly every aspect of interest. I was amazed to see that so much of our modern world today has grown and developed in and around the Atlantic Ocean. I did not know, for example, the "hidden story" of the eventual creation of the State of Israel. The Royal Navy's need for acetone led Chaim Weizmann, who had developed a special technique to create the substance, to come into favour with such figures as the future Prime Minister David Lloyd George and his foreign secretary Arthur Balfour. The rest of course is history and we all know how important the Balfour Declaration was in Israel's eventual independence. But "Atlantic" is filled with such stories.

Third, Winchester is just a great writer and knowledgeable on a wide variety of subjects. I was endlessly amazed at all the things he's done and the places he's been. He can turn what one might think a very dull matter into a truly exciting read (for example hisThe Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English DictionaryWho would think a dictionary could be so interesting?)

Fourth, I liked that he tried to be objective in his coverage of climate change and other environmental issues, showing both sides of the matter. No matter where you stand politically on some of these questions, it is hard not to see that man is doing some damage to the ocean, although much of the change may be natural.

The one thing I noticed, however, was that the book could have used a better proofreader. Winchester is clearly an intellect, and so it was unfortunate that there were quite a few mistakes (additional words or spelling mistakes, for example) that took away from the polished finish.

All in all, however, I would definitely recommend this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Epic Ocean, 30 May 2013
By 
Nico (Australia) - See all my reviews
What an interesting concept writing a book about the history of an Ocean? It works well because Simon Winchester is able to combine geomorphology and human history so well together and come up with an absolutely fascinating story. The time scales involved are just immense it's hard to imagine that once the Atlantic Ocean didn't exist and some time in the future will cease to exist again. From a human history perspective it is also fascinating. Clearly the Atlantic has been the most significant of all the worlds Ocean's since the industrial revolution, if not before. It deserves a wonderful accounts of it's life thus far. This book delivers that account. I would highly recommend it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vastness, 19 April 2013
By 
K. Steele "word fanatic" (England) - See all my reviews
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Simon Winchester has taken the Atlantic ocean and its coast lines and drawn a picture of history across it. Imagine if you can, because I couldn't before I read it. From the beginning when ships first dared to sail far enough to discover the world was not flat. The action and importance of the ocean during the WWars, the life of the people through time living on the coasts of Africa and America and other small islands. If you're interested in history from another angle this is for you.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening, 13 Dec. 2011
Although some chapters are written better than others, none is less than highly readable and well informed. A subtle layer of humour pervades the work, intentionally I suspect, and for example the extraordinary hydrological institute in Monte Carlo may warrant the attention given to it more for its decadent charm than for its real contribution to oceanographic knowledge. The many footnotes are endlessly fascinating, and the main text often throws a new light on what might be familiar matters, for example quoting the original weather forecast for Hurricane Katrina, which predicted a storm even more cataclysmic than what eventuated.

The overall impression is of an eclectic but thoroughly researched body of information written by a person who truly understands the material and is able to communicate his enthusiasm.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Typesetting clangers, 27 Oct. 2012
By 
Breezy, informed, thought-provoking, revealing, wide-ranging....all of this applies to this fascinating if chaotic read, opening up a world of unvisited watery straits and shores. Recommended for all frustrated desk-bound explorers just like me.

There is one major criticism though, and nothing to do with Winchester: the sheer sloppiness of the copy-editing and proof-reading. A mis-placed comma here or there never bothers me usually, but the typesetting in this edition is at times simply all over the place: transposed phrases, dropped punctuation marks, words split in half across two lines etc etc. Call me pendantic but this stuff is really annoying. Come on Harper Press, your authors deserve better than this (not to mention those of us shelling out ten quid for a copy).
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2.0 out of 5 stars Plain sailing, 30 Sept. 2012
I usually enjoy Winchester's books, the esoteric fact-filled pages, leaping hither and yon from one subject or academic discipline to the next, giving food for thought for hours after, but somehow this book was less than fulfilling.

I don't know why, it just seemed as if the author was phoning it in this time and despite the satisfying chunkiness of the edition I bought the big widespaced type-setting soon revealed that it was a somewhat thinner volume than I had expected.

It would pass a long transatlatic journey if you started reading it after you checked in at Heathrow and finished it off the night you booked into your hotel in New York. It wouldn't leave much of an imprint on you the next morning however.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Bobbing around in the doldrums, 19 April 2011
By 
If you're anticipating something akin to Mark Kurlansky's "Cod" or "Salt" you might well be somewhat disappointed by Atlantic.
In Simon Winchester's favour, he is erudite, informed, and wherever it is he writes about, he has been there and seen for himself. But he's much harder work for the reader. One minute you're storming along with the wind in your sails, and the next you're becalmed in the doldrums with every page seeming to take an age.

The root problem is the structure. In any book of this type readers will find some bits fascinating, other bits dull. But there is no means of selecting your personal passage through this book, which lays itself out as a continuous narrative. It's worth repeating here that the subtitle is "A vast ocean of a million stories" just to underline how counter-intuitive this structure is. More perversely, the oblique chapter headings give no advance indication of their subject matter.
Two fellow readers agreed with me that the first chapter is the most frustrating hurdle of all. I was instantly intrigued by the opening passage recalling a liner voyage to Canada, only to find the social history cut short and morphing into geology and the shifting of tectonic plates - a subject that (for me) redefines slow and makes drying paint seem like watching a DVD on fast-forward.
I felt like a bar across the harbour mouth was in my way, with all the call and adventures of the ocean so tantalisingly close but withheld from me.
Persevere and Atlantic has its rewards - but it isn't the book it could be.
One unfortunate error (let's be fair, a volume this wide-ranging will have one or two) - Barra Head is not the northernmost tip of the Hebrides.
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5.0 out of 5 stars excellent history of the atlantic, 9 April 2013
By 
Mr. Robert Marsland (Glasgow) - See all my reviews
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Even just to dip into Atlantic you are given a brilliantly told history of man and this ocean, whether talking of how the first humans ever to settle did so at the tip of Africa in caves, or the search for whelks producing the sought after colour purple, or how the first parliaments formed in the Atlantic region, of whales and whaling, of Columbus, of transatlantic flight and many other interesting topics as well. This is a fascinating, well-written and thoroughly researched book.
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